Haskell Grass Research Switches from Military

Nov 15th, 2007 | By | Category: 19-2: Our Story, Our Way, Tribal College News
By Darryl Monteau, NGP Intern

OPEN-AIR CLASSROOM. Historic Caddo "bundles of switchgrass" construction techniques were used to make Haskell's grass-thatched arbor. Photo by Katrina McClure.

Researchers at Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU, Lawrence, KS) have switched the focus of their Native Grass Project (NGP) as a result of their studies. When the project began 2 years ago, the Haskell student interns’ research of the grass served dual purposes: It explored the cultural relevance of the grass while also testing whether the Army could use switchgrass to restore training grounds torn up by heavy machinery. The project included 50 switchgrass ecotypes gathered from a five-state region.

Last year, the project participants constructed a grass arbor using bundles of grass under the tutelage of Phil Cross, Caddo tribal member and builder of grass lodges. (See TCJ, Vol. 18, No. 1.) For tribal grass construction needs, robust switchgrass is desirable. Taller ecotypes with significant mass harvest bundles allow for the “lap-over” needed for water-proof and air-tight construction.

The switchgrass was not as desirable for the military. The tenacity of the grass along with its extensive root system are ideal to hold soil and can withstand most types of military training. However, to be “soldier friendly” the switchgrass would have to be short, only reaching heights of 3 feet to 4 feet at maturity.

In spring 2007, the Native Grass Project was extended for another year with a new research focus to revitalize and establish switchgrass. A nurse crop of switchgrass and companion grasses will be set up at the Fort Riley Military Installation near Junction City, KS, where it will be overseen by student interns and faculty.

The research design was developed by student interns and faculty with input from research associates representing the Engineering Research and Development Center/Construction Engineering Research Laboratories, Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratories, Fort Riley, and the Plant Materials Center.

The grass-thatched arbor on the Haskell campus now serves as an open-air classroom and a gathering space.

For more information about the Native Grass Project, contact the project co-principal investigators, Lorene Williams at (785)832-6688 or Bill Welton at bwelton@haskell.edu.

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